With ‘coursecasting,’ professors making lectures portable

For many college students, iPods are an indispensable companion for those long walks in between classes. Yet at some universities, the popular music players are making their way into the classrooms themselves.

Faculty at a number colleges are experimenting with various ways to allow students the chance to use their iPods for educational purposes, be it reviewing lectures through their headphones or downloading audio-visual course material.

The engine for the movement is called iTunes U, a program announced in January by Apple that partners directly with universities to help them distribute educational content over the web using a format based on the popular iTunes digital music store.

Professors at participating schools can stream “coursecasts” or upload recorded lectures for their students to download from their dorm rooms and carry on their hips. The goal is to make the material both more accessible and more appealing.

“What our students found was that they couldn’t take notes fast enough,” said Lynn Johnson, director of information technology at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, one of the first colleges to use the technology. “They like being able to review over and over again. They like not having the pressure of having to get all the notes down in class, and instead they’re able to concentrate on the content.”

The UM School of Dentistry was one of six schools chosen to test pilot the program for a year prior to its nationwide launch, along with Duke, Stanford and Brown Universities. Since then, the program has been made accessible to the entire UM campus.

Johnson said that since the school went online with the coursecasting initiative, several smaller schools and community colleges have contacted her to ask about developing similar programs at their own institutions, and the number of interested professors is growing by the week.

“People are really hopping onto this big time,” she said. “This has been extremely successful for us. Our students are really, really liking it.”

At Georgia College & State University, iPod technology has been taken to the next level. More than 400 iPods are leant out to students in several different courses for the semester to supplement their traditional curriculum.

The technology has been utilized by more than 100 of the roughly 300 faculty at the small rural college. Moreover, a joint student-faculty organization has been formed to brainstorm new ways to make iPods a part of university life, including using them to host campus directories and supplement tours with prospective students.

Hank Edmonson, a professor in the political science department at GCSU, first started toying with the technology four years ago when iPods were just starting to enter the mainstream.

In addition supplementing his traditional lectures, Edmonson uses iPods to enhance a three-week study abroad program in which he takes GCSU students to Europe each year. The professor records lectures for students to listen to in transit, allowing them more time to appreciate the destinations they’re traveling to.

“They can do a lot of their instruction material on the train or however they might be traveling,” Edmonson said. “A situation that would otherwise be dead time suddenly can become a lot more profitable.”

Apple is currently in talks with several colleges and universities across the country to sign on to iTunes U, though only the six original schools have gone public with the program. Company officials would not say what other schools are being considered as partners.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.